New research carried out by researchers from Deakin University in Australia has formed a causal link between sedentary activities – such as surfing the web, sitting at a desk, and playing video games – and an increased risk of anxiety. Sedentary activities have long been associated with physical health problems, such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular problems. Now researchers have linked a sedentary lifestyle with anxiety, as well.
Anxiety is a widespread mental illness which can have severe effects on well-being. Anxiety is associated with excessive worrying or fear, headaches, tension, muscle aches, and a rapid heartbeat. Anxiety is extremely unpleasant, and it can cause sufferers to withdraw from social situations and avoid activities they once found satisfying. This new research suggests that those with anxiety may enter a sort of feedback loop, where they adopt a sedentary lifestyle to avoid certain anxiety symptoms, yet the sedentary activities only contribute further to their lack of well-being, leading in turn to further anxiety.
The new research was carried out by scientists from the Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research, in Melbourne, and it was published in BMC Public Health, a peer-reviewed journal which publishes research in public health and epidemiology. According to the lead researcher, scientists and health professionals are “anecdotally” seeing an increase in anxiety symptoms in modern society, and a concurrent rise in sedentary lifestyles. The researchers were interested in whether or not the two factors were, in fact, linked.
Previous research has shown a correlation between depressive symptoms and sedentary behavior, so the scientists considered this prior research a foundation for researching the link between sedentary lifestyles and anxiety. The researchers defined sedentary behavior as those activities which require a minimum of body movement, and which result in a very low amount of energy being used. These behaviors include long periods of sitting down, watching television, using the computer, and even sitting in a car or train while traveling to work.
For the study, researchers conducted a review of nine previous studies that specifically examined the relationship between sedentary behavior and anxiety. Seven of these studies focused on adults, with the other two concerning teenagers. This sort of research is called a systematic review. It seeks to focus on a research question by synthesizing all of the other high quality research which is relevant to that area. Five of the studies showed that an increase of sedentary behavior (such as an increased amount of time spent sitting) led to an increased risk of developing anxiety. Four of the studies also suggested specifically that with more time spent sitting, more anxiety was present.
The available evidence suggests that there is a positive correlation between time spent sitting and anxiety symptoms. However, the researchers were careful to state that the exact nature of this relationship needs to be cleared up. They suggest future research using a large-scale longitudinal study, and also interventional studies which test whether decreasing sedentary behavior decreases anxiety in those who have been diagnosed.
What does this research mean to those with anxiety? Well, if you have anxiety you should be aware that the amount of time you spend sitting could have an effect on your sense of well-being, and could contribute further to the development of a serious mental illness. Be conscious of the amount of time that you spend in a sitting position, including time you spend watching television, working at a computer, or playing computer games. Try to take short breaks from sitting regularly, by getting up and increasing your heart rate (ideas for “sitting breaks” include short bursts of activity, such as a short stroll, ten or fifteen squats, vacuuming, or even walking up and down the stairs). You should also take part in regular exercise, such as a brisk walk, a visit to the gym, or a short jog. Thirty minutes of exercise three times a week or more (combined with “incidental” activity which breaks up the amount of time spent sitting) can have a positive effect on your sense of well-being.